What Is Encaustic Photography?

Photography is an exciting medium for artists.  There are dozens of techniques available for creating images that are inspiring, dramatic, and interesting. The artist has a huge amount of control over how they present photos and can create work that triggers an emotional response in the viewer.

Photo encaustic is one of the most interesting techniques for creating artistic photographs.  The artist will paint printed photos with a mixture of heated beeswax, damar resin and coloured pigments.

This technique allows artists to create interesting artworks that combine the fidelity of photographs with the artistic flourishes of a painting.  This article will share a little more information about encaustic photography to help you get started.

Where did encaustic photography come from?

The word “encaustic” comes from the Greek word enkaustikos, which means “to burn in”.  The term is used to describe the process of adding wax to art or photographs because the wax must be heated before being applied.

The technique was first used by the ancient Greeks on paintings and murals.  It was later adopted by Egyptians who would use heated wax to add texture paintings and statues.  Some artists in South America and Asian countries also used encaustic painting techniques.

Encaustic painting saw a resurgence in popularity in the 20th-Century with American artists like Tony Scherman, Mark Perlman, and Fernando Leal Audirac using it.   It had another boost in popularity in the 1990s, with more artists using encaustic techniques on paper, pottery, cards, and photographs.

Although the technique can be difficult master, many artists find the dramatic results it delivers to be worth the effort.  Encaustic photographs have a three-dimensional appearance and wonderful luminous colour.

How does encaustic photography work?

There are three primary ways to create encaustic techniques with photographs.  They are:

  • Photo encaustic
    The artist will print a photo onto paper, then secure it to a board. Encaustic is then applied to the top of the photo.
  • Photo collage
    Photographic collages can be assembled using encaustic as an adhesive which also adds colour and texture to the work.
  • Photo transfer
    A photographic is placed on top of heated wax to transfer its colours. Artists will often use a mirrored copy of a photograph for this process to obtained coloured encaustic sections that match the original photograph.

The most commonly used method is photo encaustic.

The process of creating an encaustic photo

  1. Prepare the photograph
    If you are working with a digital image, you might like to edit it before printing. Some artists like to use filters on their digital photos to make the image look more like a painting.  This can give the wax a more blended look.
  2. Print it
    Next, print your photograph out. For best results, choose thick matte photo paper.
  3. Mount the photo on a panel
    The photo needs to be secured on a backing board. You can use anything from timber through to foam to support your photograph.  It just needs to be sturdy enough that you can add and manipulate hot wax without the photograph moving.  You can use mounting adhesive to secure your photograph.
  4. Trim your photo to match the size of the backing panel
    If your photo is larger than the backing panel, use a box cutter to remove the excess. You may wish to crop the photograph at this point also.
  5. Prepare your wax
    You can now heat your wax. Place in a saucepan, crockpot, or double boiler and begin heating.  Damar resin is then added to the mixture.  It usually comes in rock form, so it must be crushed into a powder before being added.  Damar is a natural substance and may contains impurities, so the melted wax needs to be put through a sieve before being used.  Care should be taken to not let the bees wax reach very high temperatures during the heating process as it becomes combustible. Watch this video to see the full process.
  6. Apply layers of un-pigmented medium to the photo
    Apply a layer or two of un-pigmented medium to the photo with a brush. It will need to be melted with a heat gun to fuse it into the photographic paper.  Avoid overheating as it will make the wax cloudy.  You can also scrape off thin layers of wax where you want the photo to be clearer.
  7. Place wax into containers and add pigments
    Next, you can place some wax into small containers and add pigments for the different colours you want to use. Simply use brushes and metal tools of your choice to decorate the photograph.  You can also apply pigment directly to the wax.  Continue to shape the wax as well, scraping off sections and adding more layers of clear wax to seal your work.
  8. Buff your work
    Once you are happy with the appearance of the photograph, wait for it to cure. Finally, take a close look at your work and identify any cloudy sections.  Use a clean cloth to buff these sections until they are clear.

Thanks for reading What Is Encaustic Photography?  It is a very interesting medium that can be used to create unique works of art.  For more art articles, subscribe to the site.

Richard Hammond

I am the founder of 9Mousai and am deeply interested in creativity and what inspires it. My main passions are writing, film and music but I have huge respect for all the arts. I'm also an animal lover and have a little cat called Winston and enjoy the occasional whiskey or two...

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